>Dear Dr. Hackney,

Earlier this week, my six year old son was playing Legos, and when the tower he wasworking on fell over, he said “Oh F—!” I fairly calmly called him over and said something like “What did you say?” and then “Where did you hear that?” Of course, he said “From you!” We reap what we sow, eh? Anyway, I proceeded to tell him that it’s about the worst word ever and that he must not ever say it again. He definitely understood my point.

So, this morning in the car with his dad and a classmate, out of nowhere he said “Oh F—.” I forgot to tell my husband about the earlier time, so he didn’t know our son already had been made aware of how unacceptable this is. My husband didn’t make a big deal but basically said what I did (it’s really bad; don’t use it). I’m guessing you’d advise not to make a big deal out of it too, but what do we say to him to hopefully keep him from saying it again?

Mother of two, ages 4 and 6 years

Dear Heather,

I know this is not funny at all when it is your own child. I have heard both my girls say a quick curse under their breath with my intonation. With that said, the first and most important way to curb this is to stop saying it yourself. There is little way to undo on-going modeling. You can lecture every day and then say it once, and all the good talk is gone. I now say “Oh Flip!” a lot.

Consensus says to not make a big deal. If you make a big deal you reinforce the power of the word and likely reinforce it to happen again. A big deal can add to the intrigue. He is old enough for you to introduce other-oriented consequences. Calmly and out of the moment, you might say, “Other parents won’t like it if their children learn that word. They might not want you to play together.” You might wait to see if it happens again before you take this approach, so you are not bringing it up if he’s moved on. But, that is your call. Is he the type of child to move on? Other-oriented consequences highlight the impact for the child socially or the impact his behavior has on others. As children get to be five and six years old, the importance of social exchange should start to kick in.

Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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